The Cultureless Majority

Finding your place—even if you feel you don’t have one—in Harvard’s cultural smorgasbord

We are easy to notice, even if you’re not looking for us. For many of us, it is our first experience with underrepresentation; it is the first time we stick out in the crowd. We are white and we are part of the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, Harvard’s one and only choir celebrating black spirituality and creativity. For once, we are the minority, and for once, we question if we truly belong.

Imagine the emotional state of the Harvard student perusing the activities fairs. She is white, so BSA is out. She’s too straight for Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), and too bad at chemistry to join (Women In Science at Harvard-Radcliffe) WISHR. She can’t speak Tamil, she isn’t a humanist, and she knows that Illinois is not quite far enough away to give her the worldliness required for Woodbridge. Having one suitemate who’s half Jewish won’t make her feel at home at Hillel, and even the Scandinavian club is too culturally diverse for the one-eighth of her that is Swedish. She is the majority minority, the culturally blanched. She is just so…white.

Even though I envy those with the feeling of having a “home away from home” I feel anything but resentment toward Harvard’s cultural organizations. In fact, these groups are the lifeblood of Harvard’s academic, extracurricular, and (especially) social life. But the truth is this: students who feel no cultural ties still search for a club that will embrace them not for what they do, but for who they are.

Here, students of the majority minority must realize that cultural organizations do not preach a message of exclusivity. They were not meant to serve as eddies of a specific ethnicity within the greater pool of Harvard. Rather, their purpose is to bring a general awareness of diversity to the campus and enrich the lives of all students with their traditions and practices. We need not feel as if we would be unwelcome at a gathering of students of a culture other than our own. The hypocrisy would be ludicrous and racist if students with a true interest in an organization were excluded based on the fact that they were born straight, Jewish, or white. It is the privilege and the responsibility of these clubs to promote diversity and tolerance, even if those people they are called to embrace belong to an ethnic group that was not always a model of open-mindedness.

Michael Vinson ’07, President of Kuumba, stresses the importance of a mutual respect between cultural organization and member. “People join Kuumba to sing and have fun, and that’s all well and good, but their reasoning must be deeper than that,” he says. “Kuumba is not just singing. It’s for people who want to learn more about black culture and music. You have to ask yourself, am I doing what I can to add to this community on campus?”

This is undoubtedly the opinion of most cultural groups on campus, and we the “cultureless” have a duty to respect the organization of which we want to be a part. We must acknowledge that there is a difference between using these groups only to have fun and honoring the rich traditions many of them are based upon. For Kuumba alumni in particular, seeing non-black faces on stage is a shock, and one that must be soothed by observing the profound reverence even the non-black members have for black creativity and spirituality.

So for now, this cultural orphan has found her home on the Harvard campus. There are moments of feeling out of place, but it is crucial to realize that being out of place does not mean being unwelcome. When Kuumba sings, the individual is lost as one voice resounds. I am not black, but I am a part of that voice. And truthfully, it just feels so…right.

Emma M. Lind ’09, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Grays Hall.